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Me and my unlucky ovaries – a story of infertility

Claire Lovejoy Lopes dos Santos

Infertility sucks. There, I said it. In my case I knew we had problems early on but we were so broke there was no way we could afford the costs of pursuing it, so I put it off for a few years and didn’t get to an IVF doctor until I was nearly 35, which is old in fertility terms. Not as bad as 40 but still not good.

When I realised that this was the only way we were going to get pregnant, I have to confess that I nearly succumbed to the anti-feminist attitude that God was punishing me for avoiding getting pregnant in my prime child-bearing years and putting my own selfish needs first (like a relationship and job stability I suppose). The fact that I even ascribed the punishment to a vengeful god only makes it weirder coz I’m an atheist. What makes it worse of course is that it is still such a taboo subject; there is no national health program to encourage people to see a doctor if they are trying to conceive and can’t.

When you realise you are having fertility issues you feel like a failure because you can’t do what every bogan manages from the age of 16: reproduce. I was determined to be open about our issues, even though my husband Nei would have preferred I didn’t. I just wanted to give honest answers to people who asked about when we were going to have kids,

‘I don’t know; we have been trying for five years but can’t afford to go to a fertility doctor yet so maybe we can’t have kids at all; I’ll get back to you on that,’ would have been a much better answer than, ‘I’m focusing on my career right now’. That made me sound like a one-dimensional character from a Hollywood rom-com. The truth is I would have loved to get pregnant at about 30, but economy pushed it back to 36.

Injecting

We had what is called ‘unexplained infertility’ in that they couldn’t find a reason. Nei had viable sperm and I was ovulating, the two main ingredients to a baby. We first tried artificial insemination because it was less intrusive but when that failed we started IVF. It actually took three goes before we hit the jackpot. My belly still has the faint smile-shaped bruises around the belly button from all the injections I had to give myself.

I chose to put two eggs in each cycle because it increased our chances of getting pregnant. In Australia, IVF doctors are not allowed to put more than two eggs in per cycle, and for women under the age of about 30 they would recommend only putting one egg in. So my doctor was not looking to create another Octomum, which is a shame really because in my vulnerable state I may have agreed to become a circus freak just to have a baby. I can just imagine the reality TV show we’d have, Claire and Nei and the Eight Future Rehab Patients.

Beating stress

I knew the third cycle was different; I had been getting acupuncture for a while and the month before we started the cycle I was off work and spent most of my time doing yoga and just generally relaxing. I am quite sure that stress was a major factor in my infertility, which I put down to my profession, the irony being that it was the profession that helped me afford the treatment.

Anyway, in addition to the yoga and acupuncture, I had read that laughter seemed to help the eggs taking. A study had been done of women who had just had their eggs implanted and who were treated to some clown doctors, and there were higher numbers of pregnancies with women who had had a laugh after the implantation. My clinic didn’t offer clown doctors, which is probably a good thing seeing as though I am terrified of clowns, and doctors, so I thought the next best thing to the endorphins produced by laughter would be the endorphins produced by listening to your favourite music. So I took my iPod with me, which was set up on my favourite song at the time (Quincy Jones’s version of Ai no corrida if you must know) and whacked it on as soon as I was able after the implantation. I am convinced that yoga, acupuncture and Quincy Jones are the key to successful IVF. (Okay, you could probably substitute another artist for Mr Jones, although who can resist the father of slap bass, Louis Johnson, in that song? Who?)

Picking names

During the two-week wait we were discussing names, something we had never done in the previous two-week waits, and I reiterated to Nei that I wanted to call a girl Ivy but give it the Brazilian pronunciation which is ‘Evie’. Nei was cool with that but we still didn’t have a name for a boy, although I was seriously considering ‘Quincy’. One day I said, ‘what about Sunny?’, and Nei didn’t hesitate, he loved it. So we had a name for a boy and a girl but not two boys or two girls if we needed it. We didn’t know we were pregnant, didn’t know it was twins, didn’t know it was a boy and a girl yet we were prepared with names.

Less than two weeks after the eggs were implanted I did a home pregnancy test and it was positive. Given the test was done prior to the two weeks I had a strong inkling it was twins, which was confirmed by my IVF doctor a few weeks later.

I was extremely lucky with the pregnancy as it went very smoothly and I didn’t develop any of the potential complications someone my age and pre-pregnancy weight usually would, like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or haemorrhoids (OMG! TMI! LOL!). I have to confess I was a picture of glowing pregnancy smugness, until about the last month when I could barely move, but that wasn’t too bad either as we had a TV in our bedroom at the time. Who knew the ladies on The View were so intelligent and informative? Okay, maybe I did develop one pregnancy complication: chronic IQ deficiency.

Be honest

My advice to anyone who is discovering that they may have fertility issues is to be open and honest about it. The more people do that the less isolated others will feel when it happens to them until eventually it will be like needing to get your wisdom teeth out: not everyone has to have it done but no-one feels ashamed about it if they do. I may be overreaching in my vision there but wouldn’t it be nice?

The fact is that it is too taboo to discuss and financially so overwhelming that few people know what to expect until they go through it. We had our treatments in Queensland and each cycle cost us about $3,000 (after Medicare and private health rebates). Additionally, we were required to pay the entire amount of $6,700 upfront each time, so we needed to borrow that. If I’m envisioning a world where people aren’t ashamed of having fertility issues I may as well wish for one where the costs are covered entirely by Medicare. I’m such a dreamer.

Image: I Heart Guts had to recall its toy uterus because the ovaries presented a choking hazard for small children. The company also offers soft hearts, brains and intestines, to name a few organs.


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